Last year, Lyft introduced electric-assist bikes to its fleet of bike-share systems (which it acquired from Motivate) across the country. But arguably, they made the biggest difference in the Bay Area, where steep hills can be a barrier to cycling for people looking for a non-sweaty, nonathletic commute. The gentle push from the electric motor made it possible to glide over the hills with relative ease, and the e-assist bikes became so popular in the region that Lyft quickly scaled up their presence to account for 50% of the fleet.
But in April, Lyft emailed its customers saying that the e-assist bikes would be removed from the three bikes-share systems that have them–the Bay Area, in addition to New York and D.C.–due to an issue with the braking system that was causing the bikes to toss riders (full disclosure: myself included) should they apply the brakes a little more aggressively than normal. People were not pleased. In the Bay Area, ridership across the bike-share system declined overall, as people now accustomed to a relatively breezy commute over the hills opted for other modes.
But Lyft has moved quickly to replace the e-assist bikes. Effective June 11, the company will be rolling out a revamped e-assist bike with a completely replaced braking system. The e-assist bikes will first launch in San Jose, then expand to San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area in the subsequent weeks. New York will see its e-bikes replaced in the fall. The goal, according to Lyft, is to swiftly bring the number of e-bikes in the fleets to the levels they were at before they were pulled.
That’s not the only change coming to the Lyft bike-share system in the Bay Area. Starting on the same day, the network, which was previously called Ford GoBike due to a sponsorship deal with the carmaker, will now be called Bay Wheels, along with some new Lyft branding. Ford is phasing out its sponsorship of the bike-share program (since the Lyft acquisition, the sponsor-partner model that helped Motivate systems like Citi Bike and Ford GoBike get off the ground is not as necessary). And, according to Lyft, it’s about giving the Bay Area a bike-share system that feels personal to the region, instead of tethered to sponsorship–apart from Lyft’s, that is. To that end, Lyft is collaborating with local artists, including the well-known street artist Hueman, who will create unique designs for the bikes.
On top of that, the changes will usher in a new way of accessing the bikes. Bay Wheels will still be a primarily docked system, but the new bikes will include a locking mechanism on the fender that will allow riders to lock the bikes anywhere and put Lyft into more direct competition with dockless bike-share companies like Jump (which is owned by Uber) and Lime. And the riders will be able to unlock and manage their bikes completely through the Lyft app.
It’s unclear if other Lyft bike-share cities can expect similar announcements on the horizon, but the changes in the Bay Area signal that Lyft has grand ambitions for its role as the major bike-share provider in the area.